Writer: Jon Lewis
Artists: Pete Woods (p), Andrew Pepoy (i)
The book opens with Robin clinging to a cable that's latched on to the back of a speeding motorcycle, but he's jarred loose when he sent crashing into a storage shed. The book then jumps back a little bit, as we see an undercover Tim has arrived at the underground wrestling matches that the arms dealer was so excited about, and Tim is rather surprised as the matches barely qualify as entertainment. However his opinion changes when a young boy is ushered into the ring, and when Tim spots that they are about to burn this child alive, he moves in. Tragically though Tim acts too late, and the child is seemingly consumed by the fire. However, when the child emerges unharmed, Tim learns that this child is seemingly immune to any physical damage these people decide to inflict upon him, as he is shot, electrocuted, and even blown up. When the child is kidnapped though, his sister grows very upset, as she claims her brother is only immune as long as she is near him, and this has Robin racing after the boy's kidnappers. Meanwhile back in Gotham City Tim's father makes his choice about which life he wants to live, while Stephanie finds herself driven near insane by the Riddler's evasive responses to her questions about her father.
On has to love a comic that delivers a scene where the Riddler's obsession with riddles drives the person he's talking with to the point of distraction. Now my favorite Riddler appearance is still an appearance he made in "Impulse" a few years back, but this issue is a close second, as it's a lot of fun watching Stephanie try to get a straight answer out of the ever evasive Riddler, and one almost gets the sense that he couldn't give her one, even if his life depended upon it. I love issues that play up a villain's gimmick, and I also enjoy the way that this book linked the Cluemaster & the Riddler together, as I've always felt that villains with similar M.O.'s would gravitate toward each other. Now this issue doesn't really explain why Stephanie felt she had to pay a visit to the Riddler, but I guess it's understandable that she would want to know more about her father, and the Riddler is the only person that she knows he interacted with, so watching her grasping at straws is this book's way of showing how desperate she is to know her father better. Still the questions she asks the Riddler are ones that she had already answered pretty well on her own before she even made this visit, so this visit with the Riddler doesn't really feel as necessary as it should.
As for the plot involving Robin, it certainly earns marks for being unusual, as he manages to stumble across a sideshow like display where a young boy is subjected to all manner of lethal looking attacks to show off his seeming invulnerability. There's also a strange old man who seems to know more about the situation than he lets on. We also get some pretty entertaining action as Robin attempts to stop a motorcycle gang from kidnapping this young boy, for a private display of his power, which we learn is somehow linked to his sister. There's also some downright bizarre back-story, as there's a disturbing look at what happened to a group of religious freaks who set up shop in the region and turned to cannibalism. Meanwhile back in Gotham there's an equally unusual subplot involving Tim's father having an encounter with a Valkyrie, who presents the man with a rather major choice, and there's a rather fun twist to this encounter, as the Valkyrie has a rather frank & curt manner that nicely conflicts with her angelic appearance. If nothing else Jon Lewis has made this book into something unique as I can't say I know where he's going with these plots, but then again this isn't really a bad thing, as there's far too many titles out there that are plot-by-number affairs.
Pete Woods has slipped under the radar of most fans, but he's one of the most underrated artist working in comics today, as not only does he have a clean, visually engaging style that conveys action extremely well, but he's also able to deliver it on a monthly basis. I mean since he's arrived on this title, the guest-artists have become a rarity, and I don't think the book's missed a single shipping date. The art also knows how to keep things interesting, as Robin's little motorcycle stunt opens the issue with a bang, and when he slams into that shed, the art leaves little doubt that this was a painful encounter. The facial expressions are also worth a mention, as Robin's look of anguish after he arrives to late to stop the boy from being roasted alive is perfectly done, as is the look of delight on the boys face as he emerges unharmed. There's also the look of uncertainty on Jack's face as he's forced to make a decision about which life he wants to live, and Stephanie's growing frustration when the Riddler continues to offer up riddles instead of answers. Speaking of the Riddler, I love the look of concentration that is etched on his face for most of his time in these pages, as he tries to figure out what Stephanie is up to, as this suggests he knows more than he's letting on.
An issue that does jump around a bit more than it should, and the situation Robin has gotten himself entangled in feels a little too far off the beaten path, and I hope the following chapters will bring more clarity. However, I do get the sense that confusion is suppose to be part of the story, as Robin seems to be just as uncertain about the situation as we are. The little sideshow involving the young boy is an odd enough idea that I'm curious where the story is heading next, and the situation involving Tim's father is also a fairly solid little subplot that looks like it might make a major impact on this book's status quo. However the highlight of this issue has to be Stephanie's dealings with the Riddler, as watching her attempt to get a straight answer out of the villain was rather amusing, though there was also a nice hint of danger in the air, as it's clear the Riddler is holding cards Stephanie doesn't know about, and he's also a bit mixed up in the head, which makes him rather unpredictable.
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